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By the same Ant ho?'
CIDER WITH ROSIE
A ROSE FOR WINTER
THE SUN MY MONUMENT
THE BLOOM OF CANDLES
MY MANY-COATED MAN
WILLIAM MORROW & COMPANY
Published in America by
William Morrow & Company
@ Laurie Lee, 1963
Printed in Great Britain by
Clarke & Sherwell Ltd
To Jesse's Mother
SHE was born in the autumn and was a late fall in my
life, and lay purple and dented like a little bruised plum,
as though she'd been lightly trodden in the grass and
Then the nurse lifted her up and she came suddenly alive,
her bent legs kicking crabwise, and her first living gesture
was a thin wringing of the hands accompanied by a far-
out Hebridean lament.
This moment of meeting seemed to be a birthtime for
both of us; her first and my second life. Nothing, I knew,
would be the same again, and I think I was reasonably
shaken. I peered intently at her, looking for familiar signs,
but she was convulsed as an Aztec idol. Was this really my
daughter, this purple concentration of anguish, this blind
and protesting dwarf .'^
Then they handed her to me, stiff and howling, and I
held her for the first time and kissed her, and she went still
and quiet as though by instinctive guile, and I was in-
stantly enslaved by her flattery of my powers.
Only a few brief wrecks have passed since that day, but
already IVe felt all the obvious astonishments. New-born,
of course, she looked already a centenarian, tottering on
the brink of an old crone's grave, exhausted, shrunken,
bald as Voltaire, mopping, mowing, and twisting wrinkled
claws in speechless spasms of querulous doom.
But with each day of survival she has grown younger
and fatter, her face filling, drawing on life, every breath
of real air healing the birth-death stain she had worn so
witheringly at the beginning.
Now this girl, my child, this parcel of will and warmth,
fills the cottage with her obsessive purpose. The rhythmic
tides of her sleeping and feeding spaciously measure the
days and nights. Her frail self-absorption is a commanding
presence, her helplessness strong as a rock, so that I find
myself listening even to her silences as though some great
engine was purring upstairs.
When awake, and not feeding, she snorts and gobbles,
dryly, like a ruminative jackdaw, or strains and groans and
waves her hands about as though casting invisible
When I watch her at this I see her hauling in life,
groping fiercely with every limb and muscle, working
blind at a task no one can properly share, in a darkness
where she is still alone.
She is of course just an ordinary miracle, but is also the
particular late wonder of my life. So each night I take her
to bed like a book and lie close and study her. Her dark
blue eyes stare straight into mine, but off-centre, not
Such moments could be the best we shall ever know —
these midnights of mutual blindness. Already, I suppose, I
should be afraid for her future, but I am more concerned
I am fearing perhaps her first acute recognition, her first
questions, the first man she makes of me. But for the
moment Tm safe; she stares idly through me, at the
pillow, at the light on the wall, and each is a shadow of
purely nominal value and she prefers neither one to the
other . . .
Meanwhile as I study her I find her early strangeness
insidiously claiming a family face.
Here she is then, my daughter, here, alive, the one I
must possess and guard. A year ago this space was empty,
not even a hope of her was in it. Now she's here, brand
new, with our name upon her : and no one will call in the
night to reclaim her.
She is here for good, her life stretching before us,
twenty-odd years wrapped up in that bundle; she will
grow, learn to totter, to run in the garden, run back, and
call this place home.
Or will she ? Looking at those weaving hands and compli-
cated ears, the fit of the skin round that delicate body, I can't
indulge in the neurosis of imagining all this to be merely a
receptacle for Strontium 90. The forces within her seem
much too powerful to submit to a blanket death of that kind.
But she could, even so, be a victim of chance ; all those
quick lively tendrils seem so vulnerable to their own reck-
lessness — surely shell fall on the fire, or roll down some
crevice, or kick herself out of the window ?
I realise I'm succumbing to the occupational disease, the
father-jitters or new-parenthood-shakes, expressed in:
"Hark, the child's screaming, she must be dying." Or, "She's
so quiet, d'you think she's dead ?*'
As it is, my daughter is so new to me still that I can't
yet leave her alone. I have to keep on digging her out of
her sleep to make sure that she's really alive.
She is a time-killing lump, her face a sheaf of masks
which she shuffles through aimlessly. One by one she
reveals them, while I watch eerie rehearsals of those
emotions she will one day need; random, out-of-sequence
but already exact, automatic but strangely knowing — a
quick pucker of fury, a puff of ho-hum boredom, a beaming
after-dinner smile, perplexity, slyness, a sudden wrinkling
of grief, pop-eyed interest, and fat-lipped love.
It is little more than a month since I was handed this
living heap of expectations, and I can feel nothing but
What have I got exactly.'^ And what am I going to do
with her t And what for that matter will she do with me ^
I have got a daughter, whose life is already separate
from mine, whose will already follows its own directions,
and who has quickly corrected my woolly preconceptions
of her by being something remorselessly different. She is
the child of herself and will be what she is. I am merely
the keeper of her temporary helplessness.
Even so, with luck, she can alter me; indeed, is doing so
now. At this stage in my life she will give me more than
she gets, and may even later become my keeper.
But if I could teach her anything at all — by unloading
upon her some of the ill-tied parcels of my years — Vd like
it to be acceptance and a holy relish for life. To accept with
gladness the fact of being a woman — when she'll find all
nature to be on her side.
If pretty, to thank God and enjoy her luck and not start
beefing about being loved for her mind. To be willing to
give pleasure without feeling loss of face, to prefer charm
to the vanity of aggression, and not to deliver her powers
and mysteries into the opposite camp by wishing to
compete with men.
In this way, I believe — though some of her sisters may
disapprove — she might know some happiness and also
spread some around.
And as a brief tenant of this precious and irreplaceable
world, I'd ask her to preserve life both in herself and
others. To prefer always Societies for Propagation and
Promotion rather than those for the Abolition or Preven-
Never to persecute others for the sins hidden in herself,
nor to seek justice in terms of vengeance; to avoid like a
plague all acts of mob-righteousness ; to take cover when-
ever flags start flying; and to accept her faults and frus-
trations as her own personal burden, and not to blame them
too often, if she can possibly help it, on young or old,
whites or coloureds, East, West, Jews, Gentiles, Tele-
vision, Bingo, Trades Unions, the City, school-milk, or
the British Railways.
For the rest, may she be my ow^n salvation, for any
man's child is his second chance. In this role I see her
leading me back to my beginnings, reopening rooms Fd
locked and forgotten, stirring the dust in my mind by re-
asking the big questions — as any child can do.
But in my case, perhaps, just not too late; she persuades
me there inay yet be time, that with her, my tardy but
bright-eyed pathfinder, I may return to that wood which
long ago I fled from, but which together we may now
enter and know.
JAi\ ^ tiy
The firstborn, main
828.91 4L478fC 2
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